Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Current Scholarship

Jessica R. Alexander, J.D., M.L.S., Reference Librarian

Akron Law Review -42(3) Akron L. Rev. 2009 - Neuroscience, Law & Government Symposium

As I am opposed to the death penalty, I have concluded that criminal law lags far behind neuroscience. This issue presents symposium articles that discuss neuroimaging tools, those used to look at our brain. The symposium's key note address, Law and the Revolution in Neuroscience: An Early Look at the Field, was delivered by Henry T. Greely. p. 687. He is a Stanford law professor who is, according to his profile, "A leading expert on the legal, ethical, and social issues surrounding health law and the biosciences. "

The theme of Greely's keynote speech is the advance in neuroscience compared to thirty years ago. He reminds us that everything we do and think is controlled by electrochemical reactions in the neurons. Despite the advances he posits that we are only beginning to understand the way the brain works. Here is a fascinating excerpt from his paper:

Our society is built on our understandings of the human brain as reflected in our expectations for what people will do. Soon we will be better able to understand, in new ways and using new tools, what people are thinking, planning, or doing. This will be particularly important for the law, because although the law may seem to be concerned about bodies, it is actually usually concerned about brains, or at least about minds. If my fist were to make forceful contact with Judge Rakoff’s chin, I might or might not be in legal trouble. It could matter whether I had been thrown from a car after somebody had negligently run into our car, or if I were having an epileptic seizure at the time, or if we had gotten into an argument about the Yankees and tempers flared. All that can make a difference. The law is usually worried about individuals’ motives, purposes, intentions, knowledge, and other mental states, in addition to their actions.
So knowing more about brains—and as a result being able to know more about minds and mental states—may fundamentally change, in important ways, the legal system of the United States and every other country in the world.

The other symposium articles explore neuroimaging, the fourth amendment,cognitive freedom, juror reaction to neuroimaging and juvenile justice issues in neuroscience.